Six Things You Must Experience at Ähtäri Zoo

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Once you get out into the wilds of Finland, it’s easy to think you are in the middle of nowhere, but I discovered recently that the small town of Ähtäri, with it’s zoo resort, is actually at the centre of everything. Below are some of things that you must not miss-out on when you visit Ähtäri.


Photo ÄhtäriZoo Panda Lumi3 by Timo Ahopelto

#BeLikePanda or #SleepLikePanda

Since they arrived in early-2018, Pyry and Lumi the giant pandas have become the headline act at Ähtäri – they have even been re-branded, as SnowPandas. They reside in the custom-built Snowpanda House at Ähtäri Zoo, in enclosures that were designed to replicate the mountainside environment of their native China, complete with a stream running down the sloped, rocky terrain.

If you are lucky, you will be there at playtime, when the pandas are most active, padding around both inside and outside, playing with their toys or climbing frames. Or you will be there at feeding time, and see them expertly stripping their bamboo canes and devouring the inside. Making a lot of noise in the process.

It is recommended to buy a combination ticket for the zoo and panda house. This gives you two days at the zoo plus one visit to the panda house. Be sure to take your time, the pandas are not always ‘performing’, they also sleep. A lot. There are benches and bean bags, so you can make yourself comfortable and just hang-out with the pandas. People have been known to stay in the Panda House for hours. #BeLikePanda indeed (although I’m not sure if anyone has taken the #SleepLikePanda hashtag seriously, not yet anyway.)


Photo: ÄhtäriZoo Karhut 02 by Timo Ahopelto

Take a Tour of the Zoo

After spending half a day ‘being like a panda’, you can use your combination ticket to explore the rest of the zoo, and it is well worth your time. There are two distinct themes at Ähtäri Zoo, a wide collection of Scandinavian animals and a growing selection of Asian animals, those from a climate similar to Finland, such as, red pandas, takins and golden pheasants.

Before the arrival of the pandas, the Finnish brown bears, were the star attraction and they are still an important feature at Ähtäri Zoo. If you are planning to visit in springtime, it is well worth timing your visit to coincide with the brown bears waking up after their winter hibernation. This event draws the crowds to see the bears re-enter the outside world, rediscovering their love of playing in the snow and generally showing off in front of an audience.

There are two tracks around the zoo. Take the longer track to see ALL of the animals, or take the shorter one if you have a young family or are pushed for time. Why not enjoy the Snowpanda House and the shorter track on day one, and then take the longer track on day two.  Both of the tracks lead you round to the the zoo’s Petting Farm, more of which below.


Photoby Timo Ahopelto

Enjoy a Fireside Picnic Beside the Animals

For many people reading this, it will seem an incredible concept; lighting a fire within a zoo. But this is Finland and starting a fire to cook sausages and toast marshmallows is a perfectly normal activity, even in the zoo. You cannot light a fire anywhere you choose, there are designated places with a shelter (laavu) and fire pit, . These spots are still close to the animal enclosures, however, and the elks are quite used to humans eating lunch nearby, so often come over to say ‘hei‘.

If you have not packed a picnic, but still want to enjoy an al fresco lunch with the animals, you can buy a takeaway lunch from the Panda Deli & Cafe in the Snowpanda House. All of the food is made fresh onsite every day.


Photo by Timo Ahopelto

Meet Traditional Finnish Animals at the Farmi Petting Zoo

As I mentioned above, the Petting Zoo (named Farmi) is at the end of the tracks through the Zoo, or can be accessed directly from the entrance to the Zoo. This area has been set-out to form a charming courtyard around a traditional Etelä-Pohjanmaa farmhouse, which was moved to Ähtäri especially. In the summertime, the farmhouse is also home to a cafe and gift shop.

As with the main Zoo, their is also a theme to the residents of the Petting Farm. Here you will find a collection of native Finnish animals, such as, horses and ponies, goats, sheep and cows, plus chickens, ducks and rabbits. All of the farm animals live in barns with a natural enclosure of woods, rocky terrain and grass behind them, accessible by animals when they want to go outside.

If you are lucky, you will see the ponies, cows etc. running around outside, it is especially fun to watch them rediscover their outdoor playground after they’ve been inside for winter.


Photo by Timo Ahopelto

Explore Finnish Nature

There are so many ways to explore Finnish nature at Ähtäri. Only 100 metres from the zoo is Lake Hankavesi, so in summertime what better way to explore than to rent a  kayak or, better still, take a group excursion with a guide in one of Finland’s endless, summer evenings.

If going out on the water doesn’t appeal, you could stay on dry land and rent a bike. More specifically, rent a fatbike and explore the nature trails that snake through the forests of Ähtäri. The beauty of the wide tyres of the fatbike, is that they are perfect for both cross country riding in summer and snowy winter conditions.

Close to Hotel Mesikämmen is 5km of illuminated cross-country skiing tracks. These are maintained throughout winter, so they are always in the best possible condition. Never tried cross-country skiing? No problem, ski tuition can be arranged via the hotel.

Also, look out for forest yoga and mindfulness sessions. Just think, Panda yoga, so you can achieve Zen like a panda. #BeLikePanda


Photo: Hotelli Mesikkämmen by Timo Ahopelto

Why Not Stay  For The Weekend?

If all of this activity sounds a bit too much for one day, I’d have to agree. Fortunately, there is a range of accommodation to suit all budgets, so why not make a weekend of it?

Hotel Mesikämmen is the perfect accommodation all year long. From the outside the building looks quite small, but looks can be deceiving. The reception and restaurant are the only visible part from the car park, the rest of the hotel has been carved out of the Ähtäri bedrock. If you looked at the hotel from the air, it looks like a tree, with the roots stretching out from the trunk. The restaurant/reception are at the centre, with corridors of bedrooms snaking-out, which means all of the rooms have a lake view.

If you are looking for more space of your own, then there is a selection of stylish villas at the Naava Resort, located a few hundred metres from the zoo. These larger chalets have a modern Nordic design, quality furnishings and appliances and, naturally, great views over Lake Hankavesi.

In the summertime, there is the Ähtäri Zoo Camping campsite, which has places for camper vans, caravans and tents. Plus there are holiday cottages to rent all year round. Finally, if you are feeling adventurous, you could experience the kesäaitta (sleeping cabins). These are traditional wooden cabins, offering basic facilities and are located near the lake at Ähtäri Zoo Camping and at the nearby Family Golf centre, where they are positioned close to the small par 3 golf course.

Read more in English and plan your visit: https://www.ahtarizoo.fi/index.php/en/

– Mark Wiltshear, Explore Finland Radio Show

A Winter Visit To Ähtäri Zoo & SnowPanda Resort

Photo: AhtariZoo Panda Lumi Talvi by Timo Ahopelto

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Subscribe to the new Ähtäri Zoo podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/fi/podcast/%C3%A4ht%C3%A4ri-zoo-explore-finland-radio-show/id1451443467?mt=2


In Winter 2018, I was commissioned to make a pilot series of a new podcast; The Ähtäri Zoo Podcast. This episode is a selection of stories from the first three interviews with people powering Ähtäri Zoo:

  • Satu Keski-Valkama, Tourism Development Project Manager
  • Heini Niinimäki, Zoological Director,
  • Anna Palmroth, Panda Keeper

I’m sure you will find this a fascinating look, at the workings of a modern-day zoo.  If you search for Ähtäri Zoo Podcast on your podcast player, you will find two full-length episodes, with more to follow.

The podcast will be supported by blog posts that highlight some of the unique aspects of Ähtäri; at first this will focus on the zoo but,  with your support, it could expand to include the town of Ähtäri and the surrounding area – there is plenty here to show you.

So if you want the series to continue, then we need to hear from you. Whichever episode you are enjoying, please share it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to tag the zoo @ÄhtäriZoo and me @explorefinland and use the hashtag #AhtariZooPodcast. While you’re doing this, why not tell us where in the world you are?

This will help spread the word about this new podcast. It will also demonstrate to everyone in Ähtäri that there is an international audience for this show and it may convince then to continue making it – it’s up to you now.

Thank you for listening, remember to subscribe to the show so you get new episodes when they are published <iTunes link once approved>

– Mark Wiltshear, Explore Finland Radio Show

2. Being Panda Keeper at Ähtäri Zoo Is The BEST Job. Ever!

Photo by Anssi Nokelainen, Ähtäri Zoo

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Guest: Anna Palmroth, Panda Keeper, Ähtäri Zoo

The Giant Pandas Finland has welcomed to Ähtäri Zoo Resort, Jīn Bǎobǎo and Huā Bào, have been re-branded as snow pandas Lumi and Pyry. In this episode, we hear from Panda Keeper, Anna Palmroth, who explains when she became involved with the project to move the pandas to their new home at the Ähtäri Zoo panda centre.

We also discussed that Finland’s new pandas enjoy snow play, as the Finnish climate is similar to their native mountainside habitat in China, where they move up and down the mountain, among streams of running water. Anna also explains how she feeds her Snowpandas a diet of bamboo, fruit and vegetables, plus she shares her recipe for Panda Cakes – mix cornflour, rice, soy flour, eggs, vegetable oil, vitamins & minerals and water, then bake for four hours in steam oven.

Listen to the podcast to hear Anna explain the meaning of the pandas names and how they suit their personalities, why the panda mating season is a very precise procedure and why she needs to buy different FLAVOURS of bamboo.

You can read more in English and plan your Ähtäri Zoo panda visit here: https://www.ahtarizoo.fi/index.php/en/

1. Things To Do At Ähtäri Zoo & Snowpanda Resort When You Visit Finland

Photo by Anssi Nokelainen, Ähtäri Zoo

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Guest: Satu Keski-Valkama, Tourism Development Project Manager, Ähtäri Zoo

When you visit Finland, there is so much more to do than simply checking into the best luxury boutique hotels in Helsinki. In this episode, Satu Keski-Valkama explains that if you venture a little further north to the Snowpanda Resort Ähtäri Zoo, you will find plenty to fill both action-packed or relaxing weekends.

Start with a ‘panda visit’ at the Ähtäri Zoo Panda Centre, to see how Finland’s new pandas enjoy the snow. Also, the brown bear is traditional in Finland, so if you are more into brown bear watching, then this is the zoo in Finland for you especially in Springtime when they awake from hibernation. There is a collection of Scandinavian animals, Asian animals as well as the Farmi zoo farm (petting zoo)

Then, at the end of the day, relax in Hotel Mesikämmen or Naava Resort, which are situated right next to Ähtäri Zoo with views over Lake Hankivesi. From here, in summertime you can try Fatbike riding around nature trails, kayaking on the lake or, in wintertime, try snow shoe walking or skiing on 5km of illuminated ski tracks.

#SleepLikePanda #BeLikePanda

You can read more in English about Ähtäri Zoo in Finland here: https://www.ahtarizoo.fi/index.php/en/

Introducing The Ähtäri Zoo Podcast

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Hello. Welcome to the Ähtari Zoo podcast. My name is Mark Wiltshear, and during this series I am going to take you behind the scenes at Ähtäri Zoo.

Some of you may have heard me on the Explore Finland Radio Show and this series will have a similar feel to that. Each episode will feature an interview with one of the people that have an important role keeping the zoo running, but who we do not normally hear from.

Initially, this will be a short pilot series, but I already know you will find this a fascinating look, at the workings of a modern-day zoo. Along with this introduction episode, you can also download episode one, an introduction to Ähtäri Zoo resort, and episode two, a conversation with the Panda Keeper. You’ll have to wait a little longer for the interview with the Zoo Vet, but it is worth the wait.

The podcast will be supported by blog posts that highlight some of the unique aspects of Ähtäri; at first this will focus on the zoo but,  with your support, it could expand to include the town of Ähtäri and the surrounding area – there is plenty here to show you.

So if you want the series to continue, then we need to hear from you. Whichever episode you are enjoying, please share it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to tag the zoo @ÄhtäriZoo and me @explorefinland and use the hashtag #AhtariZooPodcast. While you’re doing this, why not tell us where in the world you are?

This will help spread the word about this new podcast. It will also demonstrate to everyone in Ähtäri that there is an international audience for this show and it may convince then to continue making it – it’s up to you now, listener.

Thank you for listening, remember to subscribe to the show so you get new episodes when they are published. Now continue with episode one and learn about the “Things To Do At Ähtäri Zoo & Snowpanda Resort When You Visit Finland